2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Review
Step-by-step into the electric future
SAN DIEGO — It seems like every carmaker is making a full-throated conversion to electric.
New EVs are everywhere, and my inbox is filled with announcements of new battery factories and vehicle assembly facilities, and electric cars are all anyone seems to be talking about.
Except for, it seems, actual consumers. Though vehicles like the new Ford F-150 Lightning have hundreds of thousands of preorders, the standard F-150 sells many more hundreds of thousands of trucks every year.
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Electric cars are coming, but not as fast as some would think. That's why vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 Prime, my test car this week, are so interesting.
Prime is the name Toyota gives to its line of plug-in hybrid vehicles, cars with a plug and a battery big enough to drive the car 30 or 40 miles on a charge and then a standard gas-powered engine to keep going after that.
It's the formula pioneered by the Chevrolet Volt more than a decade ago, and it is, in my opinion, the way to get the masses excited about electric cars.
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EV enthusiasts have long argued that range anxiety isn't something to be anxious about at all, as most day-to-day vehicle use is for very short trips — maybe a few dozen miles at most. Not coincidentally, that's where plug-in hybrids (PHEV) excel. The RAV4 Prime gets an EPA-estimated 42 miles of range from its 18.1 kWh battery, more than enough for most everyday journeys.
The regular RAV4 is the best-selling non-pickup truck in the US, with more than 400,000 units sold in 2021. Taking that excellent vehicle and adding a 40-mile electric range is a recipe for success, even with a hefty $50,000 price tag.
Still, the RAV4 Prime qualifies (for now, at least) for a $7,500 federal tax credit and any potential state credits, which puts it at least in the right ballpark as the standard RAV4.
But it's much more fun to drive. The RAV4 Prime is one of the fastest-accelerating Toyotas around, going from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds or so (depending on whose claims you listen to). Thanks to its electric powertrain, it's zippy in traffic and when merging on the highway. It makes a combined 302 horsepower between electric and gas, which isn't supercar quick, but it's plenty to make this one zippy crossover.
It's comfortable and practical, with room for five plus excellent cargo space. The RAV4 takes an ideal vehicle — the best-selling compact SUV — and electrifies it. And that's the end of it.
It doesn't look weird. You'd barely know it was electric if not for the second fuel door, a "Prime" badge on the rear, and a “Plug-In Hybrid” emblem on the sides. And even then, you'd need to know what "Prime" means. The electrifiedness is subtle.
For a car buyer who doesn't mind flying under the radar, which probably describes most Toyota RAV4 owners, the RAV4 Prime is perfect.
Plug it in at home, fill up that battery, drive around on electricity and then do it again the next day with no one the wiser. It's what electric cars will be, eventually—just a way to get around.
This understatedness is a large part of the appeal of the RAV4 Prime. Most folks don't want a weird-looking car to tell everyone that they're green. That's what the Prius Prime is for. Some folks want a vehicle to get from Point A to Point B, but maybe using electricity instead of gas.
My RAV4 Prime was a fully loaded XSE trim, with a 9-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all manner of tech gizmos like a head-up display, 360-degree camera, and heated and ventilated seats.
There's an enormous panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams, and Toyota's excellent standard safety suite with adaptive cruise, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring.
Of course, all those things are also available in the standard gas-powered (or mild hybrid, for that matter) RAV4s. But that's the point. The RAV4 Prime is little more than a RAV4 with a big battery.
The 6.6 kW onboard charger is enough to fill the battery in around 3 hours, so if you make a morning school dropoff run and then an afternoon school pickup run, you can use the entire battery on both ends and get more than 80 miles of total electric range in a day.
But there's always a catch. The Toyota RAV4 Prime is incredibly popular and is inevitably sold out everywhere. You'll need to call around and get lucky or place an order with your local Toyota dealer if you want one.
If you do snag one, know that it's worth the work. It's a Toyota RAV4, but electric.